NPR Ombudsman Rips Report On Adoption Of Native American Children
August 12, 2013 at 4:22 AM (PT)
NPR's ombudsman and management are at odds over the accuracy of a story aired by the network about Native American children in non-native foster homes in SOUTH DAKOTA.
The three-part series by reporter LAURA SULLIVAN and producer AMY WALTERS aired in OCTOBER 2011 and alleged that SOUTH DAKOTA's Department of Social Services was "systematically removing Indian children from their families in order to collect federal reimbursements," said Ombudsman EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOS, adding, "The series further alleges that cultural bias — it stops just short of saying racism — was behind the overwhelming placement of these children in white homes, in possible violation of federal law." SCHUMACHER-MATOS noted that the state and the reporters disagreed on the facts of the report, and said that the issue also included "a misuse of the techniques of storytelling" and that "the series was deeply flawed and should not have been aired as it was."
In response to SCHUMACHER-MATOS, EVP and Chief Content Officer KINSEY WILSON and SVP News MARGARET LOW SMITH responded with a statement saying that the network "stands by the stories," saying that they "found the reporting to be sound" and calling SCHUMACHER-MATOS' comments, which included detailed information rebutting the original story, an "unprecedented effort to 're-report' parts of the story" relying primarily on one source, "a state official whose department activities were the subject of the series." They complain that SCHUMACHER-MATOS' investigation, interacting with state officials over a 22 month period, "has impeded NPR's ability to engage those officials in follow-up reporting. Overall, the process surrounding the ombudsman's inquiry was unorthodox, the sourcing selective, the fact-gathering uneven, and many of the conclusions, in our judgment, subjective or without foundation. For that reason, we've concluded there is little to be gained from a point-by-point response to his claims."
The executives admit flaws in the original series in not finding other sources when the state became adversarial and uncooperative with the reporter, and admit that the amount of federal spending involve was "likely closer" to the state's figure of $40 million than the $100 million as reported, and that the story "did not always clearly distinguish between the conditions affecting all foster children and those specifically affecting native children; nor did we adequately distinguish between legal proceedings that were the province of the state and those overseen by tribal authorities."
SCHUMACHER noted that WILSON and SMITH "declined to respond on the record to most of the points" raised in his report.